Pollards Enjoying Olympic Trials Magic
EUGENE, Ore. - There may be someone among the more than 20,000 fans that daily pack venerable Hayward Field for the 2012 U.S. Track and Field Trials that has appreciated watching athletes compete to represent the U.S. London Olympic Games more than Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard. However, you couldn't find someone who loves this experience and understands its magnitude more than Pollard, a former collegiate distance All-American.
"It is the Holy Grail of track meets," Pollard said. "When you know some of the student-athletes personally it makes the experience even better. It is just great fun."
Pollard did not come to Eugene alone. The entire Pollard family made the trip along with family friend Dennis Young, a member of the Drake Relays' executive committee. They were part of the drama Friday night when former Cyclone legend Lisa Uhl raced to a 10,000-meter spot on the U.S. Olympic team despite stopping to tie her shoe during the race. Iowa State junior Meaghan Nelson was also a part of the race, finishing 12th.
"We were sitting close enough that during their warm-up that we could give Lisa and Meaghan a 'lets go' and they returned a thumbs up," Pollard said.
After Uhl's performance punched her ticket to London, Pollard was able to get to the rail and share a brief joyous hug with her, knowing well her trek from unacclaimed Fort Dodge high schooler to Iowa State NCAA champion and now U.S. Olympian.
"I heard first hand from Lisa and from Shalane Flanagan (Koll's Nike teammate) who went to the front of the race to slow down the field so Lisa could catch-up," Pollard said.
Iowa State has had a significant presence at these Olympic Trials. In addition to Koll and Nelson, Iowa natives who never won a state prep title, Cyclone Kianna Elahi of Omaha will compete in the 400-meter hurdles Thursday (7:30 p.m. CDT). Iowa State's Danielle Frere of Muscatine will join teammate Christina Hillman in the shot put. The Cardinal and Gold competitors are a message.
"The track and field tradition at our school, with coaches like Bill Bergan, who got us started, Steve Lynn and now Corey Ihmels who has rekindled the program's flame, is affirmed by our Cyclones who made the premier meet our country has to offer. All but one Cyclone here began this week as collegians and three will be back for us next season. That is a statement."
Pollard's interest in track and field goes far beyond a perfunctory interest as athletics director. You can see him at Iowa State home meets and most Big 12 Championships. He carries that appreciation for the sport that can only be fueled by one who competed himself, someone who learned some of life's lessons on a 400-meter oval. Like many who have trained and raced, Pollard fully appreciates the significance of those athletes he has met in the Nike Suite after earning a place on the Olympic team.
"Because of my job, our family has had the opportunity to meet special people, sports celebrities who have achieved at the top of their sport," Pollard said. "We have a family "No Gawk" rule when we meet people, like our Olympians, to show our respect."
But the Olympic Trials experience, which includes meeting the greats of the sport, has challenged Pollard himself to comply his own "No Gawk" rule. The father has cut his children some slack on that rule this week. The resulting pictures of Pollard's sons with stars of the sport will be cherished for a lifetime.
"When Galen Rupp, the winner of the 10,000 meters or someone like Joan Benoit (the first Olympic women's marathon gold medalist in 1984) comes by me it is hard not to say something to them. We have and they have been unfailingly gracious. Thomas (Pollard's oldest son who is already an Iowa prep state place winner) got to meet (three-time U.S. Olympic marathoner) Meb Keflezighi. They talked about his training, which tells you about Meb, a man of that stature, who would take time to talk to a high schooler about running."
The event has had a profound impact on Pollard's family.
"One night this week, our kids were running around a track they had set up and adopted the names of Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp among others," Pollard said.
It was the youngest of the Pollard family, 10-year-old James, who best put the feeling of thousands experiencing the 12 days of track and field's best in the Yankee Stadium of the sport, located in Eugene, which brands itself as "Tracktown USA."
"Dad this is so much fun," James said. "It's probably over the top, but can we stay here for maybe, a year?"